Part of a series from the Fresh Start Group on what Leave would look like. The author of today’s piece is Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham.

What does Vote Leave mean for British citizens living in the EU, and for EU nationals living in the UK? It means no change! The entitlement to residency for existing expats after Vote Leave would be unchanged and protected under the Vienna Convention, European Convention on Human Rights and EU Court rulings.

“Withdrawing from a treaty releases the parties from any future obligations to each other, but does not affect any rights or obligations acquired under it before withdrawal.”
– House of Commons Library

Current problems with EU membership

EU nationals can exercise free movement rights to live and work anywhere in the EU, and it is a fact that there are currently more Polish people resident in the UK for example than all the Brits in Spain, France and Germany put together. According to official UN figures there are currently more than 1.2 million Brits living in the EU yet some 2.8 million EU nationals living in the UK.

In both cases, this is dwarfed however by British expats living and working outside the EU without the “claimed advantages” of being within an EU arrangement. There are almost 1.3 million Brits living and working in Australia and 715,000 in the US, more than in the whole of the EU put together.

Pensioners living in an European Economic Area country receiving a UK state pension or Incapacity Benefit are generally entitled to state healthcare paid for by the UK. However the current cost to the NHS for medical treatment of Brits in the EU amount to more than £667 million whilst reciprocal claims by the NHS for EU nationals treated here brought in less than £50 million in 2014/15. Despite mutual free movement the UK taxpayer is again contributing disproportionately to the EU.

Immediately following Vote Leave

There will be a smooth process of transition following a Leave vote, and as all EU law is enshrined in UK law it will remain in place unless repealed by the UK Parliament. Therefore there will be no change for the 1.2 million Brits already living in EU states or the 2.8 million EU nationals living in the UK. International legal protections such as the 1969 Vienna Convention establish ‘acquired rights’. Section 5 states that the termination of a treaty ‘does not affect any right, obligation or legal situation of the parties created through the execution of the treaty prior to its termination.’ Essentially Brits who have already exercised their right to live and own property in EU states would keep that right after Brexit. (Notably, this was acknowledged for Greenland when they withdrew from the EEC in 1986.)

Within 2-5 years of Vote Leave (depending on EU process)

Whilst the status of existing expats will not be affected by Brexit it is hugely to the advantage of other EU countries to make sure that potential expats are not discriminated against given the balance of numbers and costs of changes to UK immigration criteria. Pensioners in EU countries will continue to receive NHS-funded healthcare and there will be the prospect of the NHS benefitting from recuperating far more revenue from treating EU citizens in the UK. For others we could negotiate reciprocal healthcare arrangements based on the interests of UK citizens abroad, such as the Reciprocal Health Agreement between Malta and the UK, which was superseded by the EHIC Card, that allowed for UK passport holders who were ordinary residents of Malta access to free health services in local public healthcare institutions.

It would be up to the UK alone to make sure state pensions paid to Brits in EU countries would continue to be uprated annually and entitlements such as the winter fuel allowance would continue to be controlled by the UK Government alone. Conservative proposals to extend the vote to expats living abroad for more than 15 years mean would give an even greater direct democratic say to expats on regulations affecting them.

It would be in the interests of all EU countries to maintain current arrangements for existing expats and instead focus on negotiating a new settlement for future UK nationals looking to travel, work and reside, preferably with the EU as a whole or otherwise through bilateral arrangements.